A "For Sale" Sign Out for Life Technologies

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For sale by owner. Life Technologies (UNKNOWN: LIFE.DL  ) could stick the sign out in front of its headquarters after announcing today a vote by its board to retain Deutsche Bank Securities and Moelis & Company LLC to "assist in its annual strategic review." The market long ago learned to interpret those code words and promptly sent shares of the company soaring nearly 12% on buyout speculation.

A fixer-upper?
Sales numbers for Life Technologies didn't have much curb appeal in 2012. Revenue for third quarter was down nearly 2% compared to the same period in the prior year. For the first three quarters, revenue was up -- but only by a little over 1%. 

I wouldn't call Life Technologies a fixer-upper, though. I agree with fellow Fool Alex Planes' designation of Life as the best in its class of genomics companies when all factors are considered. While its sales numbers in 2012 aren't exactly awe-inspiring, both revenue and earnings were better than what analysts expected. 

Potential buyers
The Financial Post reported that the two firms hired by Life Technologies to find a buyer are talking with at least four large private equity firms, including Blackstone, KKR, TPG Global and Carlyle Investment Management. Other firms are also reportedly being approached.

Naturally, speculation about potential buyers also includes big players in the life sciences market. Life Technologies currently has a market cap of $10.5 billion, so that limits the most probable prospects down to a handful of companies. 

Roche could be a bidder. Negotiations broke down recently for its potential buyout of Life Technologies rival Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN  ) over the price of the deal. Roche's chairman commented at the time that "there are several alternatives to get hold of gene-sequencing technology." His remarks spurred talk that the company would look for another acquisition target.

GE Healthcare  (NYSE: GE  ) was in the buying mode earlier in 2012, acquiring privately held DNA sequencer SeqWright. Parent company GE has plenty of money for more acquisitions with $85 billion in cash at the end of September. There are other potential buyers as well. 

Wait for the sign
We have heard the same story before. Speculation runs rampant that a genomics company could be bought out. The shares run up for a while only to have the bubble popped when no deal is finalized. Illumina is the most recent example.

Will the same thing happen with Life Technologies? I don't think so. My hunch is that its board paid close attention to what happened with the failed Roche buyout of Illumina. If I had to make a guess, I'd say that the odds favor one or more of the private equity firms buying Life Technologies. We won't know for sure, though, until the "sold" sign goes out front.

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